You can divvy up the big players in the alternative energy game like characters from an environmentally-themed ‘90s cartoon: Solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal power, all of which combine to cure us of our fossil fuel fix. Or so the rosier view of the future goes. But what about the weirder options, the characters that any studio exec with a half-functioning cortex would have banished from the Saturday morning schedule? Well, they’re myriad and bizarre. Some are more thought experiment than viable solution and some are just upsetting. Either way, these are the alternatives to the alternatives.
1. The Other Black Gold
In 2008, a University of Nevada, Reno engineer proposed we turn coffee grounds into biofuel after he saw the oil floating on the top of a day-old pot. His team was able to show that you could, feasibly, extract oil from discarded coffee grounds. If you could turn the world’s supply of leftover grounds into fuel, you’d get about 340 million gallons of coffee biodiesel — just under 1 percent of all diesel fuel used in the U.S. On the one hand, that’s not efficient. On the other, the exhaust would smell amazing.
2. Dance Dance Revolution
Ampere, a sometimes-club performance space in Antwerp, stays warm thanks to dancers’ body heat. One event with 1,000 attendees can allegedly heat the event hall for a week, and there’s a piezoelectric floor that translates dance move vibrations into energy. The company Energy Floors told Deep House Amsterdam that 100 people dropping it low can generate 3,000 watts.
3. Recycled Kibble
There’s a lamp post in a Cambridge, Massachusetts dog park that runs off methane from pooch poo. Snatch up the poop in a biodegradable bag, plop it into the nearby methane digester, crank it by hand to let the anaerobic bacteria do their thing, and out comes methane. Currently, the methane is burned off via lamp flame, but the company Park Spark has hinted at future projects including feces-fueled popcorn machines. Tasty!
4. The ‘Fight Club’ Sequel
Fat, as the biological equivalent of gas tanks, is a great source of energy. Dr. Craig Alan Bittner, a California doctor, knew this. The liposuction surgeon found himself with a surplus of human fat, and instead of throwing it out like some sort of chump he claimed to use the fat to run his SUV as well as a girlfriend’s Lincoln Navigator. (Wired smelled something funny about the story, because pre-2008 Navigators didn’t come in diesel.) Using human fat like this isn’t kosher, legally speaking, but Bittner might have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for a few meddling patients who complained about his unlicensed girlfriend helping out with the Bittner business. Rumor has it, he ducked out of the U.S. to avoid authorities, presumably on a non-fat car, and is maybe working in a medical clinic in South America.
5. Slaughterhouse Fire
Cow eructations and flatulence — which are chock full of methane — contribute to an estimated quarter of the U.S.’s greenhouse gas emissions. But, for a time, an Argentinian program harnessed cow farts for the forces of good: the country’s National Institute of Agricultural Technology strapped container to the cows and collected the expelled methane. A single cow can produce 300 liters of the gas daily, enough to keep a refrigerator running for a day.Photos via Flickr.com/Joshua Ganderson